Ah, Halloween. It's always fun to hang around college campuses this time of year. You never know what you might see.
At Penn State, students decided that last Friday was the night to dress up and parade down College Avenue. We had a ringside view from the legendary Tavern restaurant. There were naughty pirates, naughty nurses, naughty witches pretty much any costume you could think of, with a naughty twist. Then there was the posse of shirtless dudes, carrying swords, representing Leonides' army. Not many Nittany Lions want to be Spartans, but these guys were sort of pulling it off.
This week, we find ourselves at Georgia Tech. There were plenty of students dressed up Wednesday, although the costumes were decidedly less naughty than at Penn State. The football team usually gets into the act -- at least, the players who belong to frats do, including the Yellow Jackets' starting QB Taylor Bennett. Unfortunately, he had removed his costume before sitting down with our crew for a chat. Too bad. I would have liked to have seen him decked out as "Tinky Winky," the purple Teletubby. That's the one that has a triangular antennae and carries a handbag.
Uh, Taylor why exactly did you pick the controversial purple Teletubby, my friend? "Rock, paper, scissors contest. I lost," he explained. And he followed through. I will hand it to him: Not many starting quarterbacks would wander the campus as "Tinky Winky."
Maybe "Dipsy" or "LaaLaa" or "Po." Never "Tinky Winky."
Will the Eagles be unmasked?
Boston fans are getting a little sufferable. The Red Sox sweep my beloved Rockies and Sox fans invade the box seats to scream and taunt the poor overmatched National Leaguers (whose entire payroll is less than the Sox's pitching staff's). But I am not bitter, as a Rox season ticket holder from day one. No, not in the least.
Then there's the Patriots, piling up points like a vintage Loyola Marymount hoops team, running roughshod through a league that's supposed to symbolize parity.
A Beantown Championship Double seems only a few months away.
Or will it be a triple? With the Heisman thrown in?
Boston College is a legit title contender. Matt Ryan is more than a legit Heisman co-front runner. But BC is not, in my opinion, the second best team in the nation at the moment. My AP ballot reflects that. I am voting BC at No. 6, behind Ohio State, LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma and Arizona State.
So, start ranting and raving, Eagles fans. Demand to know why I am "hating" on your team! Shout about the relative weakness of Ohio State's schedule and how the Tigers, Ducks, and Sooners all lost to teams that are now unranked. You will never be convinced that there is not some bias on my part against your team.
Except you are wrong. I admire what Jeff Jagodzinski and his staff have done this year. The Eagles have faced a quirky, wierd schedule and survived and advanced. Opening with three conference games gave the new staff no chance to break in gently. Then, the bizarre departure from ACC play for four straight games put BC in a tough spot last Thursday, when it faced perhaps their toughest ACC challenge all year and had to quickly readjust to the speed of Virginia Tech. No coach would want to open with three league games, step out for four, then return for a tough road game. But "Jags" never complained.
The Eagles can thank Ryan for the escape from Blacksburg, of course. He was unsettled and inaccurate for about 56 minutes, then authoritative and poised for the last four, calling his own plays in the two-minute offense.
They also can thank a very fortunate bounce off the hands of Tech's Josh Morgan on the onsides kick that allowed the winning drive to take place. Morgan's spot on the "hands" team might be in jeopardy after that one!
Now don't start hollering again. I am not trying to cheapen a great victory. I just might view games differently than some people (and maybe most coaches). I might
evaluate the importance and meaning of a win based on how a team achieved that win. Computers can't do that. Pollsters still can, if they choose to.
Had Morgan collected the kick or Andre Callender dropped Ryan's last pass, most pollsters would have dropped BC like yesterday's news. The Eagles would be ranked perhaps 12th or 13th. Virginia Tech would sit there about No. 6. I just don't vote that way. Or I try not to, anyway. One play made or not made can mean the difference between winning and losing, of course. Heck, these days it seems to happen every other game.
But one play does not signify a huge difference in the overall quality of a team, which is what a ballot is supposed to reflect.
Oregon lost to Cal, at home. The Bears are now unranked mostly because Nate Longshore sprained his ankle in that game. He missed the loss to Oregon State and wasn't himself at ASU. The Ducks lost on a goalline fumble by Cameron Colvin, a narrow call that had to be looked at forever on replay. Without that fumble, perhaps 90 percent of the pollsters would have Oregon at No. 1. LSU lost in triple OT at Kentucky, which has been worn down by the SEC rigors, but is a talented bunch. Andre' Woodson was as brilliant in that game as Ryan was in the last four minutes at the Lane. LSU was a play away from winning that game countless times. Oklahoma fell asleep on a 17-point lead at Colorado.
These are all quality teams. I have seen all of them in person and also on TV just about every week. From what I've seen, they are a little stronger than BC. So far.
Trust me, I am not waiting for the "I told you so" loss by the Eagles. I was expecting to watch them again this week at home against struggling FSU. They are a
mere six-point favorite, by the way. But that's another story. Don't blame me for what the "experts" think!
Ryan is special and the defense is very solid and sound. Frank Spaziani is one of the best defensive coordinators out there. Jolonn Dunbar is a superb linebacker and Jamie Silva an excellent college safety. There are very solid college players dotting the roster. This staff is getting the most out of them. Plus, there is great maturity; 17 Eagles have already graduated.
If BC keeps winning (at Maryland and at Clemson won't be easy), I really expect that "GameDay" will visit Chestnut Hill for the finale against Miami. That'd be the 11-0
Eagles in a reverse role as heavyweight and the Canes as spoilers, with the BCS title game on the line. The Eagles would have the division wrapped up by that point. It'd be a great scene on a cool campus. Love to be there.
And if the Eagles can navigate through undefeated, and beat Virginia Tech (perhaps) again in Jax, then I certainly would give them an appropriate ranking. Style points do count, though.
Not that it matters. The AP poll has nothing to do with the BCS standings, of course.
So, BC folks, save your venom. Check your sudden sense of entitlement. Relax. Enjoy BC's best season since World War II. Maybe the Eagles' best year ever. Maybe part of the best sports year any one city has ever had!
Did I say Boston fans were getting insufferable now? Just wait.
Inside the numbers
I admit it. I am kind of a stats geek when it comes to football. Besides watching games and watching tapes, I like to stare at pages and pages of printouts and
try to evaluate why teams are winning and losing. Numbers don't always tell the whole story, but they can at least illuminate the plot.
So, here's what a review of the detailed stats for three of the most successful but least seen teams this season reveals.
The Huskies also feel unloved, even at an amazing No. 13 in the BCS. Hey, the chip on the shoulder thing is working. Keep it going, fellas.
Do not show up to a UConn game expecting fireworks. You will not see many big plays. The Huskies allow very few: Only 4 percent of opponents' plays have gained 20-plus yards. That's a very low number. The flipside: Only 5 percent (or one in 20) UConn plays have netted that much. That ranks 85th of 119 in big play production. UConn gains 5.2 per play, in the bottom half of the nation, but gives up an even more impressive 4.4 per play. Stingy.
The Huskies kick a bunch of field goals in the red zone, but also don't allow opponents to hammer it in from close very often.
UConn has thrown only four picks, but has forced a whopping 18 of them, most in the nation. UConn has scored 63 points off 22 takeaways and allowed a measly 12 points off their 10 turnovers. That means that they have a net gain of more than six points (a touchdown) per game over opponents, just on post-turnover scoring. Huge, in the era of narrow margins. The Huskies haven't blocked a single kick of any type, but have allowed just one block. They don't cost themselves many yards in penalties.
Efficient. Sound. A little vanilla. A little lucky. Much better than I thought they'd be.
And favored to beat a struggling Rutgers team on Saturday (ESPNU, 7:15 p.m. ET). This is a game I want to watch.
The Jayhawks have been far flashier than the Huskies on offense. I will not, however, go too deep into their enormous offensive stats. They were accumulated against a silly nonconference schedule that no longer is in synch with the quality of Mark Mangino's program.
The KU defense, though, looks real legit: just one rushing touchdown allowed in four conference games. I won't complain about what KU has done there, winning at KSU, Colorado and Texas A&M with defense. True, they have not faced a bunch of passing wizards, but the Jayhawks have been very tough to convert third downs against. They have exceptional stats in opponents' third-and-medium and third-and-long situations.
Uh, good luck to new Nebraska quarterback, "Broadway" Joe Ganz, trying to throw for first downs Saturday.
KU doesn't beat itself: It has turned it over just 11 times and has twice that many takeaways. In points off turnovers, the Jayhawks are plus-48.
True, teams that live off turnovers often stumble in games where the opponents refuse to cooperate. In the eyes of the "experts," success founded on turnovers is slightly devalued, the theory being that eventually those numbers even out.
In the case of KU, we'll see. This is a good team. Shame we don't know quite how good, yet. The test at Stillwater next week and the rivalry tilt with Mizzou at Arrowhead on Nov. 24 will be fun to watch.
Air Erickson? Not at all. Only two Pac-10 teams have thrown fewer passes than Dennis Erickson's squad. Rudy Carpenter has not been well protected, either. ASU has allowed a whopping 28 sacks. Carpenter might be paying the price, with his thumb sprain casting doubt about his usefulness Saturday at Oregon (ESPN, 6:30 p.m. ET). The Ducks get after quarterbacks, with a respectable 20 sacks.
All told, ASU has run 69 plays resulting in negative yards, a big number.
But Carpenter connects often. ASU is No. 2 in conference completion percentage and yards per catch. They are tops in yards per attempt, a key stat.
Oregon has been vulnerable to big pass plays, allowing 31 of 20-plus yards.
Another trend Erickson wants to prolong: ASU chews clock, holding the ball an even 35 minutes per game, third best in the nation. That can limit the
damage Dennis Dixon can do. Sundevils' opponents run just 66 plays per game, fewest in the Pac-10.
ASU's defense has been a big story. Before the season, it was a question mark. The Sundevils have surrendered just four rushing TDs and scored four TDs themselves. They have allowed only seven TD passes, and picked off 14, allowing a completion percentage under 50.
Dixon will be tested by this group Saturday. If he engineers another impressive win, this time on national TV, he will have answered Ryan's "Heisman" rally.
I hope LSU's stud Glenn Dorsey can play against Alabama on Saturday. He has been in a knee brace since being chop-blocked by Auburn freshman Chaz Ramsey two weeks ago. Dorsey, of course, stayed around for his senior season after passing on the draft. He wanted only to stay healthy, enjoy a final college season, and show what he can do when not constantly hampered by injuries. Now he might miss -- or at least be slowed for -- the game against the coach who recruited him the game fans on both sides have awaited for 11 months. All because of a nasty, dirty method of blocking. One that somehow escaped the attention of the officials, who failed to flag Auburn.
That has been my least favorite moment of the season. All Dorsey does is show up, do what he's supposed to do, practice hard, play hard, and serve as a great example for teammates. He is one of my favorite players to watch.
Tommy Tuberville is a coach with integrity. He maintains that Auburn "does not and never will" teach chop-blocking. I believe him. Thankfully, although the replay looked gruesome, Dorsey's knee ligaments must be pretty flexible. The chop did not end his college career. But it did succeed in getting LSU's top defender off the field for the rest of the game. It might help Alabama deal with the Tigers' front a bit easier. There, Auburn fans. One of your guys might have helped Bama win a big one.
This is not an isolated case. Watching plenty of tape each week in preparation for Thursday nights, I do see far too much chop blocking. Comments from defensive linemen back it up. A 15-yard penalty is not enough punishment for a play that can (and might be designed to) end an opponent's season. Conferences should step in and create rules mandating suspensions for blockers that engage in flagrant chop blocking. Create a very strong incentive to avoid it.
Glenn, I hope you're out there Saturday, big guy. Each time talented players who return for their senior years get seriously hurt, the whole sport suffers.
Chris Fowler is the host of ESPN's "College GameDay." Kick off each Saturday with "College GameDay" at 10 a.m. ET to get the latest news on college football.